(This is a 'migration' post - it was first shared at FUNdoing.com. We're moving theory posts from FUNdoing to OnTeamBuilding as a way of organizing content.)
What are your foundational principles of practice (POP)?
In other words, what do you believe to be true when it comes to developing and leading/facilitating adventure-based programs? And, the other question worth exploring (at another time perhaps) is where these beliefs come from?
For me, my POPs seem to be revealed, more often than not, when they meet up with other's POPs (I like to call these interactions, POP Parties!!). Where there is diversity there is the opportunity for wonderful dialogue, as we know to be true in this field of Adventure Education (and we know, unfortunately, the opposite is also true).
Here's an example of a one of the good POP parties from my past. Organizing my vault of hard-copy treasures from workshops past, I found a handout from a Ph.D. (higher ed faculty member) in the field of recreation who lead a workshop at a state-level Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference a while back. The Ph.D. provided a handout of thoughts for us to remember and reflect upon from the presentation. I will take an educated guess that this handout included some of this person's POPs. (I remember the workshop to be full of passionate dialogue - good stuff.)
This could be the first in a series of Agree or Disagree posts (if this theme catches on.) I would like to present some of the information provided in the handout and whether I (or my POP) agree with the Ph.D. or if I disagree, and my POP in juxtaposition.
Handout: Initiative exercises and activities offer a series of clearly defined problems or tasks to a group that must be solved before an acceptable solution to the challenge may be reached. [Note: This is the first line on the handout.]
I Disagree: For me, this statement is too limiting. Using words like, "clearly defined problems," "must be solved," and "acceptable solution" limit my programming opportunities for the opposite.
Handout: The problem-oriented approach to learning can be useful in developing each individual's awareness of decision-making, leadership, and obligations and strengths of each member within the group.
I Agree: And, useful for developing a lot more pro-social behaviors. I especially like the use of the phrase, "obligation and strengths of each member within the group." I believe, through practice and theory, that the use of adventure education is for social development - I teach my student that we work within the 'social' curriculum realm of education (as opposed to an 'academic' curriculum).
Handout: [When programing and facilitating initiatives] select a problem that is suited to the age and physical ability of the group. An older group is easily stunned off by a childish situation, and [an]other group may be quickly frustrated by problems that require physical or mental development beyond their capacities.
I Agree: In educational terms this is considered proper scaffolding. We work up from where the students (or participants) are, adding new knowledge and experiences to what they already understand and have done in the past. I like the point included about "physical ability of the group." I've noticed over time (I include myself in this observation) that age-related programming is easier to do up front based on our experiences, but there is little consideration of the physical abilities of the participants - often because we do not have (i.e., did not collect) information about this area until we start working with a group. Being prepared to adjust an activity is a valuable skill for a facilitator to develop.
Handout: Situations may arise when a participant will break a ground rule of the challenge. The penalty for such an infraction can be either a time penalty or starting over. Be strict in administering the rules of the problem. If the group suspects that you don't care about following the rules, the problem will resolve into horseplay and become functionally meaningless.
I Disagree: If I stick to this practice (safety concerns withstanding) as a hard-and-fast rule in my programming I eliminate the opportunity to learn from "functional meaninglessness." When an outside force is constantly holding a group accountable for their actions, how does the group learn about taking responsibility for themselves - we miss the opportunity to talk about such things. If 'following rules' is an objective the group is with you to practice, then by all means, be the moderator. Stay flexible to other learning opportunities.
Handout: As an instructor [facilitator], you [are] obligated, during the problem-solving process, to be silent.
I Disagree: [I get the most pushback on this part of my POP.] I believe that there are important learnings to recognize "during" a group process that might be better reflected upon in the moment than after the moment has past. Of course, overdoing this (stepping in) can be counter-productive, so we choose these moments carefully. On a related note, after reading more into John Dewey's work with experiential education, I have come to agree that the facilitator is part of the group (arguably a small part) with experiences that can help the group at strategic points (again, not overdoing this) during their experiences. My reasoning for this part of my POP is about the doors/tools of opportunity. Pointing out that there are, or giving permission to explore, other doors/tools of possibly will help a group to learn about choices when they are "stuck" believing there are none, or very few. In time we hope the group understands they might not be limited to only the doors/tools they can see and feel free to explore (look for) more options.
How about you? Are you agreeing or disagreeing here? What is your POP? I hope my point is evident. (But just in case.) It can be good to explore, from time-to-time, your principles of practice. This makes us reflective practitioners - important to meaningful education.
Attend or start a POP party. Share your thoughts (you can do it here in the comments area below). Agree, disagree, ponder, question. This dialogue helps us all focus in on what's important to us as educators and how we approach our programming and our groups. And, spend a little time considering where your beliefs come from - like our groups, are we stuck using a tool that might not be the best for the job? Or, are tools other people are using better suited?
Who doesn't like a party?!
Chris Cavert, Ed. D.
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.